Doctor Who: ‘Rogue’ Review

Doctor Who
Bath, 1813. At the Duchess of Pemberton’s (Indira Varma) ball, guests are being murdered. But as the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby (Millie Gibson) investigate, a chance encounter with enigmatic bounty hunter Rogue (Jonathan Groff) takes the evening in unexpected directions.

by Jordan King |
Published on

Warning: Contains spoilers for ‘Rogue’

This first series of Doctor Who’s latest reboot has been a lot of things — silly (‘Space Babies’), spectacular (‘The Devil’s Chord’), intense (‘Boom’), scary (‘73 Yards’), and, by the end of last week’s Black Mirror aping ‘Dot And Bubble’, pretty damn bleak even too. But not since Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson’s first outing as the Doctor and Ruby Sunday, ‘The Church On Ruby Road’, have we had an episode as outrageously fun Regency-era romp ‘Rogue’. Poured from the pens of guest writers Kate Herron and Briony Redman (the former of whom a dab-hand when it comes to wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey shenanigans, having helmed the first season of Loki), this week’s adventure is good old-fashioned monster-of-the-week Who with a deliciously queer twist.

Leaving Finetime well behind, ‘Rogue’ finds the Doctor and Ruby in early 19th-century Bath, enjoying a ball at the stately mansion home of the Duchess of Pemberton (a suitably hissable Indira Varma). All britches, bodices, “You cad!” admonishments, and anachronistic string quartet covers of modern pop hits, the lavish scene feels like a perfect recreation of Bridgerton — which Ruby directly namechecks from the get-go. And that’s because avian-faced aliens the Chuldur — the somewhat less Bridgerton-coded villains of the piece — are cosplay-obsessed creatures whose skewed idea of costume drama means killing the aristocracy, wearing their skin as costumes, and then revelling in the drama. No, really! As Who villain ideas go, the Chuldur — astonishingly a feat of prosthetics and not CG — are bird-brained in more ways than one. But if you’ve ever suspected the bourgeois elite may in fact be alien shape-shifters bent on planetary destruction (or that cult-like fandom may one day be the death of us all) then consider ‘Rogue’ sweet vindication.

The mansion-set murder-mystery of ‘Rogue’ — handsomely staged and delightfully barmy as it may be — is merely a plot on which Herron and Redman hang the giddy, whirlwind romance at its heart. Whilst Ruby explores Pemberton, snooping about, mugging off the gentry, and embarking on her own Austenian adventure with new bestie Emily Beckett (Camilla Aiko), the Doctor finds himself ensorcelled by the enigmatic Rogue (Groff), a debonair bounty hunter boasting Han Solo’s insouciant cool and Captain Jack Harkness’ quick-witted playfulness. Right from their first balcony meeting, set to a string arrangement of Billie Eilish’s ‘bad guy’, the Doctor and Rogue’s chemistry is palpable; even as the duo sus out each other’s intentions — “Just the Doctor?”, “Just Rogue?” — their verbal sparring belies a smouldering sexual tension. When Groff’s Rogue suggests going outside, that the Doctor’s instinctual response is, “Fast mover, but okay…” tells you everything you need to know about where the self-proclaimed 'Lord of Time'’s head is at.

The way the Doctor and Rogue chide, challenge, charm, and tease one another (a particular incident involving the Time Lord’s psychic paper is exquisitely bashful) takes the Doctor — and Who as a show — into exciting, uncharted territory. And Gatwa and Groff go there with absolute fearlessness, freed up to let their innate charisma and soulfulness as performers shine by Herron and Redman’s sharp script and its depiction of queer joy. The Doctor and Rogue’s is a romance written in ship-measuring tête-à-têtes, awful flirting (“The name’s bond… molecular bond”), body-rolling Kylie needle-drops, and some truly scandalous, Interview With The Vampire-rivalling work on the dancefloor. It’s also a romance sealed by a bone-deep sense of shared pain, an achingly beautiful, sweeping love theme from a frankly never better Murray Gold, and an unforgettable kiss.

Now yes, a same-sex kiss is nothing new for Doctor Who — Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor had a smacker from Captain Jack (John Barrowman); Matt Smith’s stuck one on Rory (Arthur Darvill) once; and Jodie Whittaker kinda-almost-but-didn’t had a moment with Mandip Gill’s Yaz — but this one is not the same. Deliberately romantic, emotionally charged, and passionately delivered, this Doctor and Rogue’s is a kiss between two openly queer characters that feels as much like the beginning of a love story as the end of one (Rogue’s parting “Come find me” is too tantalising not to chase, surely?). Honestly, even the Doctor’s wife River Song (Alex Kingston) never received an offer so achingly beautiful as Gatwa’s softly delivered, instantly iconic: “Let’s argue across the stars.”

After a couple of fairly Doctor-lite episodes on the bounce, it’s great to see the Doctor and Ruby back in action in a big way, running about and making a racket here. Despite spending large parts of this caper apart, when the duo are together, their friendship feels lived-in and deep-rooted at this point, with both Gatwa and Gibson’s banterous back-and-forth in full flow. A frenetic mid-adventure catch-up between the pair feels like a throwback to early Doctor/Donna-era Who, whilst the hug they share after their climactic confrontation with the Chuldur — Ruby encouraging the Doctor to embrace rather than bury his emotions — carries real poignancy. With the finale right around the corner now, promising further Twists in the Doctor and Ruby’s tale as the series' bigger questions (Who are Ruby's parents? Who is The One Who Waits? And just why do we keep seeing Susan Twist everywhere?) come to the fore, ‘Rogue’ hits like a bolt of lightning just before the storm. Exactly what the Doctor ordered!

A riotously silly, sexy, and scandalous affair, ‘Rogue’ is an absolute blast from start to finish. And if Kate Herron’s ever looking for a new timey-wimey sci-fi show to run, then it looks like she’s found it here.
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